How to shop for influence

    My friend Simpson, who has a similar business to mine, was on the phone. He was in the mood to talk and, as it quite often does, the subject turned to politics.
    Itís never a pretty conversation. I make one or two comments and then hold the phone six inches from my ear as Simpson launches into a sermon on how Bill Clinton and his bleeding-heart liberal buddies are sending the economy and, incidentally, the country, down the tubes.
    On those rare occasions when I dare to make a comment refuting Simpsonís ideology, I am told in no uncertain terms that I am an idiot and should go read a book. Any book would do, I suppose, but Simpson would prefer I start with the autobiography of Rush Limbaugh.
    Obviously, Simpson is very secure with his pro-business, intensely conservative roots. But politics evidently works in strange ways. While he is perfecting his goose-step march and brainwashing impressionable citizens into his "Simpson youth" brigade, he is also working behind the scene.
    "By the way," he said after he had finished his diatribe on the liberal goofballs that are ruining the country, "Iím going to that fundraiser for our favorite member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night. Want to go?"
    This Supervisor has devoted most of his life to public service and is widely expected to run for mayor in the next election. And, most interestingly, he is as liberal as the day is long.
    "What are you doing contributing money into his campaign chest?" I cried. "Donítí you realize that you detest 92 percent of everything he believes in?"
    "So?" replied Simpson. "At least I know him."
    That was true. The Supervisor was about our age and both Simpson and I had come to know him a little through mutual friends. We had found him to be bright, articulate, honest and hardworking. And dedicated to many of the liberal causes Simpson abhors.
    "Look," said Simpson when I pressed him for a further explanation, "youíre dealt the cards you have to play. Our businesses are in San Francisco and, unfortunately, San Francisco is full of liberal politicians. Itís not like I have a big choice."
    "Do you think you can get in there and change his ideology?" I asked.
    "I doubt it. But at least Iíll have some access to him, which is more than I can say about anyone else. And it wonít hurt him to hear my conservative pro-business views. Even your buddy Clinton has David Gergen to balance his liberal rantings and ravings."
     "Iím impressed," I said. "I thought youíd never support anyone other than Jesse Helms. Youíre deeper than I ever imagined."
   "Thank you," replied Simpson. "Now write a check for the fundraiser."
   "No way. Iím not going. I donít play that game."
   "What game?" cried Simpson. "You agree with most of his views. Heís your kind of guy."
    "Oh, yeah, I forgot," I said. "Itís just very difficult for me to support someone youíre supporting."
    "If you donít want to go to the fundraiser, just give me a check so I can give it to him."
    I thought about that. As a business owner, Iím asked from time to time to contribute to various campaigns. Itís not my favorite thing to do, but usually someone twists my arm hard enough to make me do it.
   Simpson kept twisting until I agreed to make a measly $100 contribution, enough to buy a round of drinks for a few of the party-goers.
   Iíll hand it to him personally," said Simpson when I gave him a check later that day. "Heíll really appreciate it."
   "Iíll bet he will," I said suddenly realizing what Simpson was up to. "And youíll get all the credit for not only going to the fundraiser, but bringing extra cash to add to the campaign coffers."
    "So what?"
    "So that means your influence might increase. Which means I have just paid to make it even easier for a right-wing Fascist to have the ear of a possible future mayor of San Francisco."
    Simpson smiled. He knew I was exaggerating. This Supervisor had a mind of his own and, besides, Simsponís views were closer to Reaganís than they were to Mussoliniís. Barely.
   Nevertheless, I made a futile stab at retrieving my check before Simpson pocketed it.

 

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